Policy & Politics |
Philip Morris

Does $3m conflict of interest concerns taint review of plain packaging?

Does $3m conflict of interest concerns taint review of plain packaging?

MOORABBIN, Australia – Philip Morris Limited is calling on the Federal Health Minister to investigate why one of the chief architects behind the tobacco plain packaging laws is receiving more than $3 million of taxpayers’ money to determine whether the policy she recommended and helped implement is working.

Anti-tobacco campaigner Melanie Wakefield of the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer has been engaged without tender by the Department of Health to undertake a National Tracking Survey of 400 current and ex-smokers between 2012 and 2014 to assess the effectiveness of the plain packaging laws.

Philip Morris Limited Director of Corporate Affairs, Chris Argent, said it was not appropriate for one of the primary advocates and designers of plain packaging to conduct a taxpayer-funded review of the policy.

“This is akin to a student setting the end of year exam questions, taking the test and then marking their own work,” Mr Argent said.

Professor Wakefield was a member of the former Labor Government’s Tobacco Expert Committee which recommended plain packaging in 2008 and then subsequently provided advice to the Government on the implementation of the ban on brands.   The Department of Health has stated that the National Tracking Survey is a key measure for determining its view of the impact and effectiveness of plain packaging and graphic health warnings.

Public records also reveal that Professor Wakefield and the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer have received more than $7 million in Federal funding to research tobacco control policies in the last decade.

“This raises the perception of serious conflict of interest issues and gives rise to concerns about the ability of Professor Wakefield and the Centre to objectively assess and provide advice on the effectiveness of plain packaging,” Mr Argent said.

“Plain packaging is a failed policy experiment.  Two years ago, anti-tobacco lobbyists made bold predictions that banning brands would slash smoking rates. 

“Today, the same people stubbornly ignore the hard data about plain packaging, including that it comes with a host of negative consequences, especially the incentives it gives to the growing black market in tobacco.

"The Coalition Government has an opportunity to put evidence ahead of ideology by conducting an independent, comprehensive and transparent review of Labor's plain packaging experiment.”